Lib Dem activists target Nick Clegg over tuition fees, report the BBC
More than 100 Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidates have called on leader Nick Clegg to oppose government plans to raise tuition fees in England.
They say the party’s integrity is at risk and warn it could face many years “back in the political wilderness”.
The coalition deal allows Lib Dem MPs to abstain in a vote on tuition fees.
The election candidates’ petition, hosted on Lib Dem candidate Derek Deedman’s website, said: “During the general election campaign many of our MPs (and now government ministers) signed a pledge with the National Union of Students that they would vote against any tuition fee rises during the course of the next Parliament.
“The wording of this pledge clearly indicated that this would be unconditional; regardless of whether the party was in government or in opposition.
“The party has been very clear for many years about its view on tuition fees and that we feel they should be abolished.”
The former candidates say they are not rebelling but want the Lib Dems to stick to their pre-election pledge on the issue.
“There is one thing that sets the Liberal Democrats apart from other political parties; this is that when we say we will do something during election campaigns we then do it in government”Lib Dem petitioners Nick Robinson: Pledge vs agreement
They said: “This is not an attack on the coalition government’s policy programme generally; nor is it some kind of ‘rebellion’ and it should certainly not lead to the party splitting.”
But they added: “There is one thing that sets the Liberal Democrats apart from other political parties; this is that when we say we will do something during election campaigns we then do it in government.”
The petition was devised by 19-year-old student Craig Bichard, a member of Arundel & South Downs Liberal Democrats, and supported by Mr Deedman, parliamentary candidate for the constituency, who lost out to Conservative policing minister Nick Herbert.
On Sunday, Conservative higher education minister David Willetts said his Lib Dem cabinet colleague, Business Secretary Vince Cable, was “personally committed” to the plans.
Mr Willetts said he was “confident” the business secretary, whose department has devised the fees plan, would back the measure in a Commons vote next month.
Mr Cable is expected to speak on Monday evening to the leading members of the group who co-ordinated the petition, to explain why he believes the proposals will make the higher education system in England more fair.
Student protesters have targeted the offices of Lib Dem MPs
Labour will raise tuition fees in the Commons on Tuesday in an opposition day debate. A vote in the Commons is likely to place in two weeks.
Mr Clegg said last week that he “massively regrets” being in a position where he cannot deliver on his election promise.
However, he told the BBC that more Lib Dems were becoming “comfortable” with the policy as they studied the details.
He has said the coalition’s proposals were fairer than the current system as the level at which graduates will start to repay money will rise to £21,000, there will be additional support for the poorest students and upfront fees for part-time students will be axed.
The BBC’s deputy political editor James Landale said Mr Clegg had spent much of the past few days talking to his MPs individually to try to persuade them to abstain rather than vote against the rise in fees.
The proposals have angered students and led to mass demonstrations around the country, with another day of action due on Tuesday.
Much of the anger has been aimed at the Liberal Democrats.
Last Wednesday, there were 35 arrests and seven injuries to police officers as an initially peaceful anti-fees rise protest in Whitehall flared into violence.